SEQUIM — An Olympia kayaker who survived a paddle trip off Dungeness Spit that turned deadly Saturday said she has learned several lessons in kayaking safety as she mourns the loss of two friends and worries for a third.
Two kayakers died Saturday after severe weather overturned their kayaks.
A third was listed in serious condition in the intensive care unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Four kayakers reached shore safely after fighting high winds and seas, and had returned home by Monday.
All of the members of the trip were wearing life vests, said Linda Caines of Olympia, but they were not prepared for the cold water — which was 49 degrees on Saturday.
“We took a lot of precautions. We regret they were not enough,” said Caines, who was on the trip with her husband, Dennis Caines.
(VIDEO by KING5-TV — “Kayakers heartbroken over friends lost in accident,” http://www.king5.com/story/news/2015/04/12/kayaking-accident-kills-two-people/25669289/)
The outdoors adventure club of Mountain View Church of the Nazarene in Tumwater often takes organized hiking and kayak trips to scenic destinations around the region, and had organized the kayak trip at Dungeness Spit for seven members, Caines said.
“We were experienced amateurs,” she said.
The expedition included five individual kayaks and the Caines’ double kayak.
“Some of us had spray skirts and some had wet suits, but none of us had dry suits,” she said.
The group enjoyed the morning on a fairly calm Dungeness Bay and Strait of Juan de Fuca, and went ashore for lunch on Dungeness Spit.
They returned to the water at about 1:30 p.m.
It was then the group’s idyllic weekend getaway turned into a nightmare.
“The weather changed on us so fast,” Caines said.
In the morning, the wind was only about 10 miles per hour.
In the afternoon, the sea would grow rougher, said the National Weather Service, which had issued that morning a small craft advisory for the afternoon.
The group had checked the weather report before taking to the water, but didn’t understand the implications, Caines said.
“It was something we had never experienced,” she said.
Kirby Cook, the science and operations officer with the National Weather Service in Seattle, said Saturday afternoon’s sustained winds were 24 mph from the northwest with gusts up to 34 mph.
Those kind of winds can produce up to 4-foot wind waves, which are a lot for something as small as a kayak, Cook said.
“They were fighting seas that were kinda scary,” he said.
Caines said the kayaks scattered, each trying to reach the safety of shore as the waves crashed into the small group.
The conditions overwhelmed three of the kayakers — Mandi L. Walkley, 39, of Chehalis; Jacob M. Austin, 52, of Lacey; and William D. Kelley, 50, of Lacey.
Their kayaks overturned, dumping them into the cold, rough water.
A witness at Dungeness Lighthouse spotted the kayakers in trouble and called 9-1-1 for help.
The Port Angeles Coast Guard station launched a response boat crew and an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter.
The Coast Guard requested additional assistance from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, which launched an HH-60 Seahawk helicopter crew.
The three kayakers who had been separated from their kayaks were plucked from the water by those crews.
Walkley and Austin later died of hypothermia in area hospitals.
Both were initially taken to Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles, where Austin died.
Walkley was flown to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, where he was pronounced dead.
Kelley was taken to OMC, then was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Initially reported in critical condition, his condition was upgraded to serious Sunday night and remained serious on Monday.
Caines said she is monitoring Kelley’s recovery.
“He’s slowly but surely moving forward,” she said.
Caines and her husband were able to paddle to shore, where they were met by a Clallam County Sheriff’s deputy, she said.
Two other kayakers also reached shore safely in their kayaks.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at [email protected]